If I only could use one word to describe Blueback with Mia Wasikowska, Radha Mitchell, Ilsa Fogg, Clarence Ryan, Pedrea Jackson, and Eric Bana, it would be ‘lovely’.
Between the natural beauty and humble confidence of it identity, Australian film has a way of transporting a viewer into a time and place that seems surreal while also authentic. And Blueback is no exception with its coral reefs, down-to-earth relatability, and emphasis on the relationships that shape us.
When she is called home after her mother suffers a stroke that leaves her speechless, Abby (Isla Fogg/Mia Masikoawska) relives her childhood on the bay and shares with us the pivotal experiences that directed her to this present time. Having always been near the water, Abby and her mother Dora (Radha Mitchell) spend the days exploring and preserving the flora and fauna that surrounds their costal home. There she must come to terms with her mother’s illness, old relationships, and where she will go next.
While the whole “adult child comes home to ailing parent and relives their childhood” formula can feel overplayed, it doesn’t feel as such in Blueback. Instead of there being some traumatic falling out that must be reconciled before said ailing parent dies, the tension in Dora’s and Abby’s journey is more with the outside world and your typical “growing up,” moments. It’s well-balanced and believable, and is a big part of why the simplicity of this movie is so impactful. Together, Dora and Abby face the relentless pressure of outsiders, the remnants of the past, death, and separation. But they do so in such a way that gives their relationship an unbreakable bond that strengthens one another as opposed to weighing each other down.
That relationship reflects back at her through her relationship with the fish she calls Blueback – an old Grouper fish living in the reef near her home.
Yes. A fish. But no, not in an awkward way.
The relationship is one of purity. Of the magic that lives beneath the sea. Of trust and hope. Abby understands how special a fish like Blueback is and how she has a responsibility to protect him from the poachers and progress that threatens him.
Which is another relationship I want to talk about – that of the one between humanity and progress. So often, we associate progress and growth with more. More buildings, more goods, more money. The more we construct and accumulate, the more we progress in society.
For me, Blueback challenges that relationship. Sure, there is the environmental preservation element throughout the movie but, by making it relational, it makes it accessible. By slowing our steps and protecting what exists, ecosystems (and civilizations if I may be so bold) heal, grow, and thrive. If we look at progress through the lens of relationship, perhaps we can see what is right in front of us and how we can intentionally interact with the world – starting with those closest to us.
It’s sad to see how destructive progress can be. Abby witnesses it firsthand when she risks her life to chase spear-fishers away from Blueback and his home as a child, and while she inspects the dying coral from her research boat as an adult. She grew up watching her mother fight developers against intimidating odds.
She has been watching progress destroy in the name of what it claims to create.
Thankfully, it doesn’t end that way. There is peace in Blueback’s final scenes, and Abby bears witness to her mother’s work and the relationships in her life when she inspects a thriving ecosystem thanks to her mother’s persistent efforts to create a nature preserve at their home. The area is thriving because it was left alone and cultivated as it needed to be. There was progress because there was pause.
And it’s lovely.